Harry Whittington, Texas Lawyer Shot by Cheney, Dies at 95

Harry Whittington, a wealthy and well-connected lawyer who gained sudden fame as the unintended victim of a shotgun blast by former Vice President Dick Cheney, died early Saturday at his home in Austin, Texas. He was 95.

His wife, Mercedes Baker Whittington, confirmed the death. A friend, Karl Rove, the Republican political strategist, said Mr. Whittington had long recovered from the wounds and died after a short illness following a fall earlier this year.

Mr. Whittington typified the breed of Texan known as the good ol’ boy, a traditional Lone Star tribute to wit, understatement and loyalty. He regularly played cards with a nonagenarian former Texas Supreme Court chief judge and enjoyed a bantering relationship with President George W. Bush.

His strong Republican connections led to his joining a hunting trip on a Texas ranch with a group that included Mr. Cheney, whom Mr. Whittington had before met only briefly. In the encroaching dusk of Feb. 11, 2006, Mr. Cheney abruptly wheeled around to shoot a quail and instead shot Mr. Whittington in his face and upper body. He suffered scores of birdshot wounds.

The story seized the nation’s attention as two eyewitnesses and a White House spokesman blamed Mr. Whittington for the accident, saying he had stepped into Mr. Cheney’s line of fire. The Texas authorities cited Mr. Cheney only for the offense of not having a proper game stamp on his hunting license.

But at the time and later, hunting experts questioned whether the vice president had followed proper safety procedures and had heeded a shooter’s obligation to know what is in front of him before pulling the trigger.

Many were surprised — late-night comedians were delighted — when Mr. Whittington, not Mr. Cheney, apologized for the incident. Mr. Cheney acknowledged at the time only that he was responsible for pulling the trigger.

After his release from intensive care a week later, a frail Mr. Whittington said, “My family and I are deeply sorry for all that Vice President Cheney and his family have had to go through this past week.”

In an interview with The Washington Post in 2010, Mr. Whittington said his wounds had been more serious than was revealed at the time. Doctors reported that he had a mild heart attack after birdshot moved into his heart. He suffered a collapsed lung, and about 30 pieces of shot remained in his body, including one near his heart.

In 2011, Mr. Cheney offered an apology of sorts. “I, of course, was deeply sorry for what Harry and his family had gone through,” he wrote in a memoir, “In My Time.” “The day of the hunting accident was one of the saddest of my life.”

Mr. Whittington achieved wealth through a law practice focusing on oil and gas, and through real estate investments. In politics, he was at the forefront of former Texas Democrats who switched their allegiance to the Republican Party, helping to make it the dominant party in the state.

In 1960, he managed John Tower’s successful campaign to become the first Texas Republican senator since Reconstruction. He later worked on campaigns for both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush and helped Mr. Rove set up his first direct-mail firm. His political work led to appointments to state boards by five governors over 27 years.

As a lawyer and investor, Mr. Whittington was a fierce proponent of property rights. He repeatedly questioned the city of Austin’s use of eminent domain to acquire private property — some of it his own — for public purposes.

Harry Whittington was born in Henderson, Texas, on March 3, 1927. His family struggled in the Depression: His father lost his dry-goods store and cotton gin. Harry did odd jobs to pay his way through the University of Texas and its law school, from which he graduated in 1950. He then practiced law in Austin.

In 1979, Gov. Bill Clements appointed Mr. Whittington to the Texas Corrections Board (now the Board of Criminal Justice), where he was the only Republican on a nine-member panel that had tended to rubber-stamp everything prison managers wanted.

“It was time for somebody to question,” Mr. Whittington said in an interview with The Austin American-Statesman. “There was no other way I knew how to do it.”

He uncovered secrets that stunned him: drug-running by prison officials, no-bid contracts, families paying off guards to protect their loved ones. At meetings, he asked hard questions.

His tenacity led to the creation of a separate unit for developmentally disabled prisoners and an end to wardens’ using prisoners to punish other inmates.

Mr. Whittington became a prime catalyst in toppling corrupt management. When he served on the state’s bond approval agency, he fought for the disclosure of contributions to political candidates by Wall Street firms. As chairman of the agency that oversees the funeral industry, he was credited with improving the handling of consumer complaints.

In 2001, Mr. Whittington urged Gov. Rick Perry of Texas to sign a bill banning the execution of developmentally disabled people. (The issue mattered to him; one of his daughters had such disabilities.) Mr. Perry, a Republican, vetoed the bill, saying that it would diminish juries’ power and that Texas did not execute people with mental disabilities anyway. The United States Supreme Court later struck down capital punishment for developmentally disabled prisoners.

Mr. Whittington married Mercedes Baker in 1950, and they had four daughters. Complete information on his survivors was not immediately available.

In 2018, the shooting accident was featured in a scene in “Vice,” a film about Mr. Cheney starring Christian Bale in the title role. Mr. Whittington said at the time that he had planned to see the movie, although he disputed some of the details portrayed in a trailer. He told the British newspaper The Daily Mail that he had “no hard feelings toward the vice president.”

Mr. Whittington kept the bloodstained vest he was wearing when Mr. Cheney shot him, using it to show children the danger of firearms, The Washington Post reported. He said he hunted infrequently after the accident, explaining, “Some of my enthusiasm is gone.”

April Rubin and Alex Traub contributed reporting.

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